Oregon gets off easy with new Obama Clean Power Plan – Pamplin Media Group
Oregon got off easy in the Obama Administrations final Clean Power Plan issued Monday.
In the revised proposal, Oregon is obligated to reduce its carbon emissions 20 percent by the year 2030 compared to baseline levels of 2012, said Angus Duncan, chairman of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. In the initial rules put out earlier for public comments, Oregon would have been required to reduce carbon emissions a whopping 48 percent, Duncan told reporters on a conference call organized by the advocacy group Environment Oregon.
Its hard to say whether were already in compliance or not, Duncan said, given the various policies the state already has in place to reduce carbon emissions.
Topping those is a decision reached by Portland General Electric and the Oregon Public Utility Commission for PGE to stop burning coal at its Boardman plant in Eastern Oregon by 2020. Thats the states lone coal-fired plant.
Oregon also is requiring large utilities to assure that 25 percent of their power comes from renewable energy by the year 2025, under the states Renewable Portfolio Standard adopted in 2007. Those actions, plus policies involving energy efficiency and other measures, put Oregon on a glide path to meet the states new target in the Clean Power Plan.
Overall, the final Clean Power Plan calls for a 32 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2030, up from the initial goal of 30 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency regulations give wide latitude to states for how to reach their state goals, though the main thrust of the rule is to force the closure of coal plants, the largest contributor to carbon emissions nationally.
Republican governors and U.S. Senate leaders, along with many big utilities reliant on coal, immediately denounced the Clean Power Plan and vowed to overturn it in court.
Portland-based PacifiCorp, which heavily relies on coal, wont join that opposition, said its local spokesman Ry Schwark on Monday. PaciifiCorp, in line with its corporate parent Berkshire Hathaway Energy, supports major efforts to address climate change.
In a longterm plan submitted to the Oregon Public Utility Commission and its counterparts in five other states, PacifiCorp proposes to cuts its use of coal more than 40 percent by 2029, and close or convert 10 coal-fired units in that time period.
Given those plans, the new Obama Administration plan isnt a surprise or infeasible for PacifiCorp. Weve been planning for this transition for quite awhile, Schwark said.
However, he hasnt yet read the entire plan issued Monday. The rule is 1,560 pages long, Schwark said.
Oregonians have been supportive of the Clean Power Plan, said Charlie Fisher, clean energy advocate for Environment Oregon. Of the 8 million public comments supportive of the plan, 130,000 came from Oregonians, he said.
Though the state may be well on the way to achieving the goals set by the plan, Duncan said the state shouldnt get complacent. There will be new goals for 2040, 2050 and beyond, he said, and Oregon will need to speed its transition to renewable energy to meet those goals.
He cautioned utilities, including PGE, that might just substitute natural gas for coal to meet the new rules. Burning natural gas results in about half the carbon emissions of coal. However, relatively small leakages of natural gas, whether at the well, or in the vast network of pipelines, can quickly erode the carbon advantage of natural gas because it is composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.
If PGE and PacifiCorp merely substitute natural gas for coal, they could help Oregon meet its 2030 targets, Duncan said. However, he added, we would lock in our inability to meet our 2040 or 2050 goals, because utilities would want to keep those plants operating a few decades to pay off their investments.
By contrast, solar and wind energy have zero carbon emissions, and most analysts say theyll be essential if the world is to avoid cataclymic climate change.
Rachel Shimshak, director of Renewables Northwest, a Portland-based trade group, said adding renewables now is a no-regrets policy, because sunlight and wind are free energy sources. The problem of leaking methane in gas operations is another reason to go forward with renewables and efficiency projects, she said.